Beshear says Kentucky stronger than ever
Published 2:55 pm Thursday, January 4, 2024
Gov. Andy Beshear used the first State of the Commonwealth address of his second term to mesh his budget priorities with stories of Kentucky’s resilience and progress from his first term.
Per usual, he mostly avoided mentioning political parties, except to say that how the state got through the various challenges of the past four years was not “red or blue.”
“Many of you are excited that I’ll be serving as your governor for the next four years, and the rest are excited that I am now term-limited,” he joked.
“Regardless of your perspective, it does give us a chance to push politics aside and to move this commonwealth forward together. Tonight, I’m proud to report that thanks to the strength of our people and our red-hot economy, the state of our commonwealth is stronger than it has ever been.”
The Wednesday evening address was attended by state lawmakers, including some but not all of the Republican caucus, constitutional officers, justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, among others.
Beshear divided his address into sections, not unlike his budget address last month.
As he talked, he gave shout outs to various Kentuckians, from flood survivors to public school teachers who are working two jobs to support their family to the woman who pitched the idea of the Norton West Louisville Hospital.
Beshear listed off various accomplishments of Kentucky’s “record-setting” economy during his first term.
He said that it was the best four-year period for economic growth in state history, including:
- setting a record $28.7 billion in private sector investment;
- creating 51,200 new jobs at an average $26.67 hourly wage;
- establishing BlueOval SK in Glendale, where the world’s two largest electric vehicle battery plants are under construction; and
- closing the deal for Bowling Green’s AESC electric vehicle factor using funds from the General Assembly.
Beshear called the economic progress a “team sport.”
“It takes both the executive and the legislative branches, along with so many hard working local officials and business leaders,” he said. “Because of our work, because of all of our work, the eyes of the world are on Kentucky and what we are doing.”
Kentucky’s perseverance through floods and tornadoes has perhaps been its biggest story of the past four years.
Beshear reminded the audience of the 126 Kentuckians who died from those natural disasters in 2021 and 2022 before recommitting to rebuilding.
He reviewed the state’s progress, which includes securing hundreds of millions in state and federal funding and donations for recovery, the announcement of seven higher ground communities in eastern Kentucky and the pledge to spend $21.6 million to build and repair 300 homes in western Kentucky.
Beshear shared his budget priorities to continue this recovery, including an additional $75 million for the Eastern Kentucky SAFE Fund and $10 million to the statewide Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
“Our communities need these additional funds and with a record-setting economy, we can and we should be there for them,” he said.
Kentucky ranks 44th in starting teacher pay and 40th in average teacher pay. Beshear told the audience that was “unacceptable.”
“It’s hard to understand why we have not been able to come together and get this done for our educators, especially when our neighbors are figuring it out,” he said.
“The Republican governor of Tennessee signed a bill last year to provide their teachers the largest pay raise in their state’s history, and Indiana is looking to do the same. Folks, that’s our competition, not each other.”
Beshear has promised teacher raises every budget year of his governorship, but the legislature has never granted his wishes.
He also shared his budget priorities of fully funded student transportation and universal pre-K, meant to invest in both early education and child care providers.
Legislative leaders alluded to a lack of momentum for public school employee raises and universal pre-K in a press conference this week.
Beshear said that Kentucky is in its “Eisenhower moment” when it comes to transportation. He suggested $300 million to speed up the Mountain Parkway four-laning and the 1-69 river crossing, two of three major transportation projects the state is working on.
He also wants to allocate $50 million to repair local bridges.
In other infrastructure news, Beshear talked about bringing higher speed internet to every home and business in Kentucky, a common refrain of late.
He would also like to invest another $500 million into the Cleaner Water program to improve water and wastewater systems in localities across the state.
Beshear talked about his expansion of Medicaid to cover dental, vision and hearing, which he accomplished with an executive order.
He also mentioned the launch of the 988 crisis hotline for those experiencing mental health crises.
He said 2022 saw Kentucky’s first reduction in opioid overdose deaths since 2018. He added that Kentucky has the most treatment beds per capita in the country after an over 50% increase during his first term.
He said his budget would fully fund Medicaid.
Beshear ended by lauding the National Guard for its work during natural disasters and honoring law enforcement lost in the line of duty.
He said that his budget would increase Kentucky State Policy pay, as well as raise the training stipend for local law enforcement and firefighters. It would also allocate $35 million for body armor.
Beshear closed his address as he began: by appealing to unity and shared faith.
“This is our time to push away the division; to prove we can govern without name-calling or scapegoating; to do it without anger, fear or hatred,” he said. “That we not only talk about our collective faith, but we actually live it.”